IS-held New Zealand aid worker remains missing

Stuff Editorial Director Mark Stevens

The Red Cross has revealed the identities of three hostages kidnapped by ISIS in Syria five years ago in the hope of finally tracking them down.

Breaking its silence on the case on Sunday, the independent aid agency identified the three as Louisa Akavi, a nurse from New Zealand, and Syrian drivers Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes.

Red Cross nurse Louisa Akavi was abducted in 2013 while delivering supplies to medical facilities in northwestern Syria.

The Kurdish-led SDF, backed by a US-led coalition, captured the last IS bastion in eastern Syria on March 23, and had detained thousands of suspected IS fighters.

The status of Akavi, a 62-year-old New Zealand nurse, is unknown, but her employer said it has received recent witness reports suggesting she might be alive.

But on Monday the Red Cross broke cover to name Ms Akavi and appeal for any information that could lead to her being found.

Dominik Stillhart, director of operations for the ICRC, said the organisation had made a decision to permit publication in the hope it would elicit new information on her whereabouts.

She is the longest-held captive in the history of the ICRC, and Mr Stillhart called her "a true and compassionate humanitarian".

Ardern said that this position was made clear to the ICRC, but the ICRC, which took the initial lead in efforts to find Akavi, chose to make a public plea for information. "If our colleagues are still being held, we call for their immediate and unconditional release", the ICRC said in a statement.

Ms Akavi was held by the Islamic State (IS) group and there is evidence she was alive in late 2018, the Red Cross says.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fends off questions from the media about New Zealand Red Cross nurse Louisa Akavi named by the New York Times during a post cabinet press conference at Parliament in Wellington on April 15, 2019. "It's working with the national staff who do the best they can", she said. There were also reported sightings in 2016 and 2017, Red Cross officials said.

In a statement, Akavi's family yesterday said they loved her and wanted her to come home.

American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by Jihadi John in August 2014, was also said to have been held at the jail.

He said the family had been in frequent contact with the ICRC, the New Zealand Red Cross and the New Zealand government.

Numerous other prisoners were then executed by ISIS in a series of brutal beheading videos, but Ms Akavi was allowed to live.

In a statement today Tuaine Robati, the Akavi family's spokesman, said: "Our family misses her very much and is concerned for her safety".

"We think about her every day and hope she feels strength in that".

"We know she is thinking of us and that she will be anxious about us too".

'Our family is incredibly proud of her and of the work she has dedicated her life to.

He said there were Red Cross people on the ground in Syria and Iraq looking for information about Akavi, and he strongly believed she was still alive.

"This non-combat team was specifically focused on locating Louisa and identifying opportunities to recover her", Mr Peters said.

The Red Cross later expressed surprise at Ardern's position, with Stillhart telling media: "Every decision was coordinated with the New Zealand Government, with whom we have an excellent relationship, excellent cooperation, and that included the hard decision now to go public".

Following this, the New Zealand Government sought out media at home and overseas to ensure details of her plight were kept secret. Both are married men with children. We are all close, ' the relative, who wished to remain anonymous, told Daily Mail Australia.

An elite New Zealand force of spies and defence force personnel were sent to the Middle East to work alongside United States counterparts in an attempt to find and rescue Akavi but have been unsuccessful.



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